How to Get into Film Photography on the Cheap

Film photography isn’t at all dead; in fact it’s evolving. What’s seemingly disappearing in terms of push and effort on behalf of the more traditional brands isn’t exactly so. The younger generation of photographers embrace the format as a way of trying something completely new that they didn’t really get a chance to use growing up. It’s a departure from the digital world that gets caught up in all the technical jargon and can easily blur the idea of art.

Film can also be an incredible learning tool if used correctly and can also give you lots of really cool and experimental uses with the right mentality. But you’re trying to get into film without breaking the bank, then here’s how.

Films

Cinestill photo

Kodak Portra 160: Kodak Portra 160 is a low ISO film that lets you shoot images with very soft colors and little contrast–it’s pretty much the opposite of modern cameras and lenses do. This film was designed for portraits, and the soft color can lend itself well to skin tones though these days it’s shot more as an everyday film. Why? Honestly, I’m not sure. It’s not a bad film, but it’s also not my favorite anymore. That award goes to the stuff that CineStill is putting out.

Pro Tip: Handheld light meters can help with figuring out what your flash settings and camera/lens settings should be.

Pro Tip: Handheld light meters can help with figuring out what your flash settings and camera/lens settings should be.

Kodak Ektar 100: The reason why I’m listing Kodak Ektar here instead of Fujifilm Velvia is because Ektar is a negative film and therefore easier to work with. You can get close to Velvia’s colors in the 35mm film range but not so close in 120 and large format. Additionally, not everywhere will do the processing involved with chrome film. This film needs A LOT of light to make the best of it. Use if for general shooting, but you’ll find it best for landscapes.

Ilford Delta 400: This is my absolute favorite black and white film. It’s high contrast with lots of grain and can be pushed very far. Strongly recommended over Kodak Tri-X.

Agfa APX 400: Some say that Agfa APX 400 is a high contrast film, but in my personal tests I thought it to be low contrast. I’m not going to argue about this, but I will tell you these two things: it can recover lots of details in the highlights and it’s pretty cheap.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Instant film cameras 2015 (1 of 8)ISO 1001-125 sec at f - 4.0

Fujifilm Instax: Instax is instant film and comes in both business card sized mini and wide. They’re fun, but don’t offer a lot of manual control for the person looking for that. The exception is with either a Diana F+ or a Lomography Lomo’Instant where you’ve got a bit more control.

Cameras

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Canon 7D MK II review product images (10 of 10)ISO 4001-25 sec at f - 4.0

The next step involves the use of your current camera system. Luckily for most of you, you’re in luck because lots of companies have stuck to their camera mount for many years.

Canon EF Mount: My favorite Canon EF mount film camera on a budget is the EOS Elan 7. It’s nowhere as expensive of intricate at the 1 series, and it’s got a pretty good build quality with features that will be very familiar to digital camera users. I suggest you pick one up.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer 4V Design Lusso Slim brown and cyan product images review (8 of 9)ISO 2001-125 sec at f - 2.0

Nikon F Mount: If you’re a Nikon DSLR user and you own lenses that aren’t from the G series lineup, then you’re in luck. It’s not at all one of the higher end SLR cameras from Nikon, but it’ll do the trick: the Nikon N2020. This camera is fairly well made and while other hardcore film camera users may scoff at is, it’s not a bad camera to get into film with.

Pentax K Mount: The venerable Pentax K1000 may be the best pickup. Well built, beautiful, simple to use, and it was the standard in classrooms all over the world.

Sony A Mount/Minolta Maxxum Mount: Lots of folks recommend the Minolta X-700, but others tend to go for the Minolta Dynax series of cameras. They were targeted at the pros and are amazingly cheap.

Fixed Lens Rangefinders: My heart goes to the Yashica GSN Electro 35, but it’s large and heavy. Try a Canon Canonet QL-17 or an Olympus XA2.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Instant film cameras 2015 (6 of 8)ISO 4001-125 sec at f - 4.0

Diana F+: This camera is a medium format option that can be had very cheaply. Despite folks saying that the Diana F+ is tough to use, it really isn’t if you just read the manual and pay close attention to what it’s telling you. It shoots at a fixed shutter speed unless you’re in bulb mode but your apertures are all variable. I’ve shot it with 120 film and instant film and haven’t had a problem with it.

Fujifilm Instax Mini 8: The Mini 8 is kind of ugly in my opinion and doesn’t offer any sort of manual controls, but it’s popular for its cheap price. I’d honestly say go for the Mini 70 or Mini 90, but that’s just me.